Although many Americans want government to stay out of their lives as much as possible, the obesity epidemic has become so great that a majority of Americans surveyed in January welcomed the idea of the government setting policies to help improve the country's fitness level.

A team at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, conducted a phone survey about government policies to fight obesity. Eighty-five percent of the 1,139 people surveyed said that they would support tax breaks for companies that offer fitness facilities for their employees. Employer or health care company discounts for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight were favored by 73 percent. The same percentage favored making it mandatory that health insurance companies reimburse people who participate in obesity treatment or prevention programs.

Perhaps Americans are finally waking up to the devastating effects that obesity can have on people's health and on health care costs. Chronic diseases, many of which can be caused by obesity, affect 133 million Americans and are responsible for seven of every 10 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with chronic disease account for 81 percent of hospital admissions, 91 percent of prescriptions filled and 76 percent of physician visits, according to the Partnership for Solutions, an initiative led by Johns Hopkins University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the care and quality of life for Americans with chronic health conditions. In the past five years, hospital and doctor visits have increased by 20 percent to 1.2 billion visits each year, according to the CDC.

Obesity costs U.S. businesses an estimated $13 billion annually, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Included in this amount is the extra cost of health insurance at $8 billion, sick leave at $2.4 billion, life insurance at $1.8 billion and disability insurance at $1 billion.

However, it's not too late for people to change their ways. People who adopt a healthy lifestyle in their 40s and 50s can reap major health benefits, according to a study in the July “American Journal of Medicine.” Middle-aged people who picked up four healthy habits — eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, getting the recommended daily exercise, keeping their weight down and not smoking — lowered their risk of heart disease within four years of starting these healthy habits.

So what are you doing to help the country in this fight? You may think running a fitness facility is enough, but it's not. If you aren't working with at least one of these partners — the medical community, schools, corporate businesses, insurance providers — then you aren't doing enough. If you don't know what city, state or national health initiatives are being offered and if you aren't part of these efforts, you aren't doing enough. If you aren't writing or calling your local, state and national representatives about supporting bills that would improve the health of Americans, then you aren't doing enough. If you aren't setting a good example of a healthy lifestyle, then you aren't doing enough.

The fitness industry should be at the front of this movement to push prevention rather than just treatment. Now is the time for you to make a difference. Americans are behind the effort; they just need a leader. It's not too late to step up and be that leader.